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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Under the Cloak of War + Subspace Rhapsody + Hegemony - Reviews

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2.08 “Under the Cloak of War” - Review:

Strange New Worlds can do serious when it wants to; and Under the Cloak of War is a marked tonal shift from its Lower Decks episode as it reminds us; as it has done all season: this is a show about getting to where we need to be for the future to happen. A Klingon defector is brought across the enterprise which triggers past memories for the crew who fought in the war; providing depth for Chapel, M’Benga and Ortegas – all war veterans. It’s important to remember the conflict wasn’t just limited to the crew of Discovery – but instead; Under the Cloak of War gets the job done by focusing on those left behind and exploring if there’s a possible peace; forgiveness – and what that means for the crew of the Enterprise.

The Klingon defector that starts this plot off is Dak’rah, who was at the Slaughter at Lembetta Five and the rumour that he killed his own men to cover his retreat – showing his ruthlessness as a warlord. Strange New Worlds questions can there be forgiveness for people like him? Starfleet is big on second chances: and having the Butcher of J’gal on the bridge sees tensions rise. Even Spock gets involved on Chapel’s behalf; creating a raktanjino for him that burns his hand requiring a visit to sick bay. This is the event that kicks of uneasy memories brought back to life, Chapel and M’Benga both involved in the war – the horrors of the conflict brought to life first hand in some rather excellent visuals. The toll on the survivors bears a heavy hand as throughout this episode we see M’Benga grappling with the consequences of his own actions, witnessing his allies die as he didn’t go with them due to his newfound nature as a doctor who doesn’t get involved in conflict; and then – in the conflict with Dak’rah on the bridge – revealing his true identity as the real Butcher of J’gal.

It's something that’s been exploring a darker side of M’Benga’s character for so long this season, we’ve seen him and Chapel show experience of their combat before and this is no different – someone as scarred as M’Benga is unlikely to forgive Dak’rah easily and that conflict shows the past cannot stay forgotten. Even in the dining room, the scenes of the characters losing their cool escalates this whole episode to a boiling point of tension: and when M’Benga stabs Dak’rah – it’s been coming, it’s cold, ruthless and harrowing. Pike and Una aren’t perfect crew leaders but it feels like they should have done more here to prevent the old war wounds escalating for Chapel and M’Benga, one of the roles Pike has taken this season has been a backseat Captain and hasn’t really had the chance to be front and centre as often as he has had in the past – this season seems to be more about his individual crew members, and it’s better for that: M’Benga was lucky that Chapel was on hand to defend his actions as self-defence, and M’Benga vows he didn’t start it. If there was a meaning for this episode it’s summed up by M’Benga’s final lines: some things are never broken, just managed.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2.09 “Subspace Rhapsody” – Review:

Star Trek has a long history of silliness, so with the episodic format, I’m surprised that the showrunners were able to hold their restraint long enough to give us a musical episode this deep into the second season of the show, and I’m glad they did – because what a choice it was, and naturally, anything that even allows these characters to have the slightest bit of fun looks set to break the fandom apart because we’re not allowed to have gimmicky standalone episodes that didn’t populate The Next Generation and beyond. Subspace Rhapsody is no different to the grand history of Star Trek – it’s experimental, lightning in a bottle – if you don’t like musicals and you don’t like crossovers, you’re probably not having a great time this season, but my counter argument: where’s the fun in not liking musicals or crossovers?

Encountering an unknown alien anomaly leads the crew of the Enterprise to try and communicate with it via an old musical song; which has the opposite effect and vibrates back into the entire ship – just in time for James Kirk to arrive for some valuable experience shadowing Captain Pike. We’ve seen Kirk take up much of the screentime this season but history has him on the Enterprise – so of course; the closer to him becoming Captain we reach, the closer he’s going to get. I like that he’s still a background character but for those who were unhappy with the lack of meeting between him and La’an earlier in the season; they got that here – with the characters conveying their hidden emotions and desires through song – previously stoic characters that they never would’ve thought of previously, such as Una and Spock, breaking into dance numbers. The early highlight of Una and Kirk shining a spotlight on the innermost feelings like it’s no big deal kicks off La’an’s struggles, as the silent observer – and her own musical number showcases that this episode has a greater significance than you can imagine on a personal level for these characters.

La’an has the talk with Kirk, it’s to beat the news about the time-travelling coming out to the rest of the crew of the Enterprise and maybe more. She tells him about her Kirk – the Kirk from another universe; not ruling anything out from happening here but not expecting it to. It goes terribly of course: this Kirk has a child and a partner back home, which nips that romance in the bud before it could start again. But we’ve already seen it play to where it could go earlier in the season – but La’an’s fate is new, after all: one of the breakout characters of last season is entirely a non-legacy crew member.

This episode operated around the crux of 2 relationships as you’d expect from a musical: the big heavy hitter between Spock and Chapel after having planted the seeds last season. Spock finally allowed himself to open up around Chapel and become someone different to the point that Boiler noticed; but the end had to come at some point and it came here. Ethan Peck got to sing “I’m the X” to add to the number opposite Jess Bush’s “I’m Ready”, and each actor got the chance to sing. Chapel’s fellowship opened up a whole new world for her beyond the Enterprise – she’s earned it, deserved it after all – and it was great to see the characters spread their wings. Would that mean no more Chapel? Or more likely: a significant time jump in-between the second and third series. We get an answer as to why Spock is like the Spock Boiler knows – and it’s devastating.

Oh: and the Klingons in this episode provided much needed comic relief, too. Their “We Are One” cameo where they were insulted by their dancing brought in all the heavy hitters to singing – it’s the kind of trick Wynonna Earp would’ve pulled in its heyday so it’s the sort of show that Melanie Scrofano excels at. Everyone’s got a good singing voice and the musical numbers are quite catchy, to say the least.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2.10 “Hegemony” – Review

The Gorn leave a heavy shadow over the cast and characters in Strange New Worlds; filling the void of the lack of ability for the characters to use the Borg without timeline shenanigans; and the fact that they’ve been used so predominantly in Picard recently using them again so soon would feel like too much. The opening is strong: Captain Batel and her crew – now with Chapel among their numbers, are on the surface of a colony on the edge of Federation space when they’re attacked by the Gorn – that destroy their ship, much of the colony and send the people into chaos.

Interaction with the Gorn would provoke another war; but Pike has personal stakes here, and so too does Spock. Due to the close connections the crew of the Enterprise has with Batel’s crew and the Gorn as an enemy, it’s personal – and the Enterprise wastes no time in disobeying federation orders to infiltrate Gorn space after sending out a line dictating their territory. We can see how deftly over the past few episodes that I’ve reviewed here Strange New Worlds can balance a tone – and going straight from the musical episode into this feels like a real callback to The Next Generation which it imitates in more ways than one: even though there’s no Borg here, the whole thing feels very Best of Both Worlds.

The crew are able to beam themselves down to the surface of the planet whilst Spock successfully finds and rescues Chapel, as if anyone believed for a second that she would be dead early on. The reunion was satisfying but there’s greater things at play here and that’s been the case for reunions in this show – the Kirk/La’an reunion was all-too brief, but there’s more to come later in that department, speeding through the relationship drama in favour of getting to the main plot and accelerating the stakes whilst giving the narrative a beating heart. Relationships anchoring the character drama amplifies rather than diminishes the stakes in this case – and it all factors into a chilling finale.

But first – as we get closer and closer to the timeline of the original series; we see more of the original team of the Enterprise join in with Mr. Scott; one of the many familiar faces show up as a younger version with all the energy of a tech genius who’s capable of luring Pike and his crew into an ambush and trapping them before realising they’re human. One thing the casting department has excelled at all season has been the casting of this new look Enterprise crew – Martin Quinn makes an excellent impression as Scotty and all the ingredients are there for him to be a regular in Season 3; especially given his story of him being the only survivor of his ship giving him no option to return there. A lot of the crew of the Enterprise have been forged in the conflict of war – and the latest addition is no different. Even Sam Kirk; for once involved in a conflict without his brother present – has a vendetta against the Gorn.

The final revelation came not long after certain members of the crew were able to be beamed back to the Enterprise; and that’s Batel is infected by the Gorn. It’s a very Best of Both Worlds cliffhanger: instead of Kirk, it’s Batel – who we may end up losing. The stakes couldn’t have been higher, Batel in danger, sealed up with the potential to go full Alien, and oh yes, half of the crew trapped – held hostage on the Gorn ship. It’s cliffhanger – old Trek style – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It's also worth pointing out that as much as I love current Star Trek, this isn’t the highs of the franchise that many have been claiming. Remember the 90s heyday? That was everywhere. The heyday of Trek won’t be back until we get some peak 90s 20+ episode seasons, thank you very much. But Trek couldn’t be in a better place right now in this moment: Picard and Strange New Worlds wrapped two of the best shows of the year, and more like this, please and thank you.

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